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Schizophrenia may make it harder to get, keep, or carry out the responsibilities that come with employment. For some people, schizophrenia can also make it more difficult to take care of their own needs during periods when their symptoms are flaring.

That’s where Social Security benefits come into play.

According to Section 12.03 of the Social Security Administration (SSA), schizophrenia is listed as one of the conditions that can qualify for disability benefits. However, just having a schizophrenia diagnosis doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be eligible for disability benefits.

This article will explain more about schizophrenia benefits through Social Security and what you’ll need to do to be eligible for support, services, and disability income.

What is a disability?

The SSA defines a disability as a physical or mental condition that causes an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity” and that “can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

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It’s important to know that people don’t always have exactly the same experience with schizophrenia. Symptoms can change over time. For many people with the condition, schizophrenia has periods of remission, where symptoms are mild, and periods of relapse, where they’re more significant. These cycles can make it hard to keep employment long-term.

Schizophrenia can affect several skill sets and abilities that are often important at work. For example, in a 2020 study involving 158 people with schizophrenia, researchers identified several factors that determined whether people were able to keep their jobs longer than 6 months. These included:

  • the degree of psychosis symptoms
  • a hostile or blaming communication style
  • the ability to correctly understand other people’s motives, feelings, and behaviors
  • an overall ability to function
  • the ability to interact well with others socially

Researchers have also found that:

  • People assigned female at birth who had schizophrenia are more likely to be employed part-time.
  • People with early onset schizophrenia may not have developed the work, social, or educational skills needed for employment.
  • People are sometimes limited at work by a sense of avolition, or lack of motivation.
  • Some people with schizophrenia are able to work for longer periods at jobs in rural areas or in jobs that require less social interaction.
  • Many people with schizophrenia are employed in support positions with lower pay.
  • Other health conditions, including depression, can affect employment for people with schizophrenia.

Though it’s clear that this condition affects employment for many people, it’s important to note that everyone’s experience is different.

There’s also good evidence that pre-occupational training, social skills training, effective accommodations, individual placement support, and the support of family and friends can help people with serious mental health conditions apply for, train for, and keep good jobs.

The answer may depend on your symptoms and the nature of your work.

You may still be able to work if you have schizophrenia if:

  • your symptoms are managed well by medication
  • your work environment is accommodating and supportive
  • you’re experiencing remission
  • you’re able to carry out your job duties most of the time

Applying for disability benefits doesn’t mean you must stop working altogether.

The SSA considers the full picture of your employment when deciding whether you qualify for benefits. Still, it’s important to understand that your disability status and your specific benefits can be affected by several factors, including:

  • the number of hours you work
  • the job duties you perform
  • the amount of money you earn
  • the length of time you’re unemployed because of a disability

The SSA has strict rules for determining whether someone is eligible for Social Security Disability income.

The first rule involves your work history. To qualify, you must have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes long enough to earn 40 Social Security work credits. Generally, people earn 4 credits a year. Credits are based on the amount of money you earn. At least 20 of your work credits must have been earned in the past ten years.

Some people who don’t have sufficient work history can still receive Social Security Income (SSI), versus disability income.

The second rule involves your disability. To qualify for benefits, you must provide proof of a medically determined mental health condition that prevents you from doing work that brings you substantial gain. That condition must be expected to last at least 12 months.

To determine whether schizophrenia is preventing you from working, the SSA considers five questions:

  1. Are you working?
  2. Is your condition severe enough to keep you from doing work-related activities for 12 months or longer?
  3. Is the condition you have one of the SSA’s “listed impairments”?
  4. Does schizophrenia keep you from doing the work you once did?
  5. Can you do any other kind of work with your education, skills, and work history?

Some people can qualify for benefits based on their parents’ work history instead of their own. This typically applies if you received a schizophrenia diagnosis before age 22 and your parent has died or is receiving retirement disability benefits.

Check on your benefit eligibility

To check which benefits you may be able to receive, you can use the SSA’s Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool.

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You can apply for disability benefits online.

Part of the process is creating a Social Security account where you can check the status of your application later. You can also apply by mail, by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or by visiting a local SSA office.

Once you’ve applied, you can prepare for your interview with a local SSA representative. You’ll need to gather the documents to support your application. A detailed checklist can be found here.

In short, you’ll need official proof of:

  • your identity
  • citizenship
  • marital status
  • any children you have
  • military service you have completed
  • 2 years of employment or self-employment
  • banking information
  • contact information for doctors who have diagnosed and treated you
  • psychiatric or diagnostic tests
  • prescriptions you take
  • explanations of the ways schizophrenia has affected your work or job
  • your education and job training

This process may feel a little overwhelming. If you can’t find every single document before your interview, you can ask your SSA official to suggest alternatives or replacements.

You’ll receive a letter letting you know the time, date, and place of your interview. You should expect to spend about an hour in the interview. If you completed the online application, your interview may take less time.

After the interview, a decision about your benefits could take 3 to 5 months. During that time, you might have to supply more documents or take a diagnostic test.

If your application is denied — and most are — you can appeal the decision. You may want to work with a disability attorney or an advocate to help you prepare for the appeal. Local SSA offices often keep lists of agencies and professionals who can help you navigate the appeals process.

The SSA provides detailed instructions in the Adult Disability Starter Kit. If you need an interpreter to help you with the application, you can find one here.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests these strategies for managing schizophrenia at work:

  • Ask a doctor or mental health professional to write a letter confirming your diagnosis. You don’t have to inform your employer of your diagnosis, but if you need support, this letter may help you get the accommodations you need.
  • Work with your human resources or people department to create and apply for the accommodations you need. Once you have identified the accommodations, submit the request in writing.
  • Keep careful notes of the discussions you have around your disability and accommodations.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Family and Medical Leave Act. It may enable you to take a leave of absence if you need one.

You may also find these job-search and job-support resources helpful:

You may also want to reach out to an online schizophrenia support group as you make your way through the application process.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a group of laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination at work. They also protect people from discrimination when they access public spaces and public services. These laws apply to people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, just as they apply to people with visible disabilities.

The ADA describes two important rights for people with mental health disabilities:

  • Right to privacy: That means you don’t have to tell your employer about a schizophrenia diagnosis unless you want your employer to provide you with accommodation.
  • Right to reasonable accommodation: That means you can ask your employer to change your work environment or change the way you do your specific job. You have a right to those changes as long as they don’t cause undue hardship for your employer.

Examples of accommodations might include:

  • providing you with assistive technology to help you complete your work
  • changes to lighting or noise levels in your work area
  • flexibility in your schedule
  • more frequent breaks
  • leaves of absence that enable you to receive treatment
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Schizophrenia can make it difficult to work, either long-term or short-term. If your symptoms are likely to keep you from performing your job duties for 12 months or more, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the SSA.

The application process takes some time, and you’ll need to provide evidence of your medical and work history. You’ll also participate in an in-person interview as part of the process. If your application isn’t successful at first, don’t give up. Many people get the help they need after an appeal.

If you need support or assistance, speak with your local SSA office or with an advocate or disability attorney. Applying can be frustrating and time consuming, but you are absolutely not alone in the process.